February 14, 1864: Sherman Takes Meridian, Mississippi

Meridian Campaign

Sherman’s Meridian Campaign in February 1864 was in many ways a dry run for his Georgia campaign of the fall.  Sherman had hit upon the idea that the Union did not really need to hold on to all the important positions in the Confederacy if it could wreck what it did not wish to hold.  That is precisely what Sherman did to the important rail junction of Meridian, Mississippi.  Starting out from Vicksburg on February 3, 1864 Sherman at the head of 20,000 troops easily brushed aside the weak Confederate forces that stood in his way and seized Meridian on February 14.  For six days Sherman and his men held Meridian and destroyed 115 miles of railroad, 61 bridges and numerous engines and rolling stock.  Then he and his men marched back to Vicksburg unmolested.  Sherman noted that he and his men were able to live off the land quite easily, even in the middle of winter.  The only disappointment of the raid was that Major General William Sooy Smith, leading 7,000 cavalry from Memphis failed to rendezvous with Sherman at Meridian, having got off to a late start and then been defeated by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Okolona on February 22.  Sherman learned much from this raid on Meridian, knowledge that would come in handy before the year was out.  Here is an excerpt from Sherman’s memoirs on the campaign:

 

The object of the Meridian expedition was to strike the roads inland, so to paralyze the rebel forces that we could take from the defense of the Mississippi River the equivalent of a corps of twenty thousand men, to be used in the next Georgia campaign; and this was actually done. At the same time, I wanted to destroy General Forrest, who, with an irregular force of cavalry, was constantly threatening Memphis and the river above, as well as our routes of supply in Middle Tennessee. In this we failed utterly, because General W. Sooy Smith did not fulfill his orders, which were clear and specific, as contained in my letter of instructions to him of January 27th, at Memphis, and my personal explanations to him at the same time. Instead of starting at the date ordered, February 1st, he did not leave Memphis till the 11th, waiting for Warings brigade that was ice-bound near Columbus, Kentucky; and then, when he did start, he allowed General Forrest to head him off and to defeat him with an inferior force, near West Point, below Okalona, on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad.

We waited at Meridian till the 20th to hear from General Smith, but hearing nothing whatever, and having utterly destroyed the railroads in and around that junction, I ordered General McPherson to move back slowly toward Canton. With Winslow’s cavalry, and Hurlbut’s infantry, I turned north to Marion, and thence to a place called “Union,” whence I dispatched the cavalry farther north to Philadelphia and Louisville, to feel as it were for General Smith, and then turned all the infantry columns toward Canton, Mississippi. On the 26th we all reached Canton, but we had not heard a word of General Smith, nor was it until some time after (at Vicksburg) that I learned the whole truth of General Smith’s movement and of his failure. Of course I did not and could not approve of his conduct, and I know that he yet chafes under the censure. I had set so much store on his part of the project that I was disappointed, and so reported officially to General Grant. General Smith never regained my confidence as a soldier, though I still regard him as a most accomplished gentleman and a skillful engineer. Since the close of the war he has appealed to me to relieve him of that censure, but I could not do it, because it would falsify history.

Published in: on February 14, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on February 14, 1864: Sherman Takes Meridian, Mississippi  
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